We have all heard stories about judges handing out creative punishments for people who find themselves in their courtrooms: from holding up embarrassing signs on the side of the road to being subjected to hours of loud music, many judges around the country are getting creative with their punishments in order to teach lessons and keep the incarcerated population of our jail cells down.
But, there comes a point where those creative punishments begin to erode at a human’s basic constitutional right, and a Wisconsin judge is coming under fire for doing just that.
Eric L. Loomis found himself in a judge’s courtroom and found that his sentence would be determined by a mere phone application.
Called “Equivant,” this phone app boasts the ability to manage inmate grievances, track gangs, help people figure out appropriate discipline for inmates, and even goes so far as to provide bar graphs and trees to help classify specific inmates and predict whether they might commit the same types of crimes they have already committed.
One of these features is the ability to evaluate an inmate’s “risk.” That is, the app supposedly houses the ability to predict future behaviors based on past behaviors.
So, when Loomis found himself in this judge’s courtroom because of eluding police in a car used in a shooting, the judge sentenced him to six years in prison because of a bar graph generated by this program.
“You’re identified, through the Compas assessment, as an individual who is a high risk to the community.”
Those were the exact words said to Loomis before the judge brought down the gavel onto his sentencing, which proves the judge utilized this program in order to help assess this man’s risk to his own community.
The issue? No one outside of Equivant even understands how this application came to assess Loomis the way it did.
Why is this a constitutional issue? Because now, Loomis has absolutely no idea why he has been classified as a future risk to his community. Because this algorithm is the “secret sauce” of Equivant, it is not possible to prove in a courtroom how this application came to label Loomis as such.
And the 6th amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensures that any defendant, in any court case, has the right to know the reasons behind a particular accusation brought against them.
In this case, why Loomis is a future risk to his community.
Creative punishments are all the rage in our modern court systems, but when they begin to infringe upon the constitutional rights of an individual, it has crossed a line that is both detrimental to the accused and to the judicial system as a whole.
Loomis has appealed his case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court who ruled against Loomis, and it has drawn the eye of the U.S. Supreme Court as a result.
Featured image courtesy of WXOW.com.